Greatest Les Paul Players Part 1.
Written by Patrick Ortiz
Musicians get obsessed with a lot of things; it’s in our nature. We are constantly reworking our sound with different pedals or amps, changing our favorite guitarists at least once a month, and are always fawning over the next instrument we want to buy. It’s a never-ending saga.
The guitar has been used as an instrument as far back as the 15th century with lutes and acoustic being used in the Renaissance and Baroque time periods; though “the guitar never had the respect the lute enjoyed.” The world’s favorite instrument has gone through many extensive alterations, with various shapes, electronic configurations, and other aspects. Now, we have an axe for every occasion, genre, or personality; but there are still a few iconic models that stand out of the crowd.
One of the most recognizable and used guitars is the Gibson Les Paul. Developed over sixty-five years ago by the one and only Les Paul, his signature model has been played by some of the most illustrious guitarists in history and graced the albums of every genre from jazz and country to metal and hip hop. The instrument continues to be one of the highest-selling guitar models in the world and continually undergoes tweaks, improvements, and modifications.
Today we will celebrate the prosperous and iconic guitar by breaking down the fourteen best Gibson Les Paul players in history. Now, this is by no means a complete list as it encompasses individuals who are mostly seen and known for playing a Les Paul predominantly through their career.
Let’s get started by looking at numbers 14 – 8!
Joe Perry is known as being the flashy, leather-clad guitarist in the Massachusetts-based rock band, Aerosmith. Like many musicians growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, Joe Perry was heavily influenced by the Beatles who convinced him to pick up a guitar by age 10. Originally cast aside as “Rolling Stones rip offs,” Aerosmith quickly found their voice in the blues-rock world, producing massive hits with tunes like “Dream On,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way,” and a slew of others. Perry is a straight rock and roller with an unmistakable gritty tone from the humbucking pickups emanating from his Les Paul. His powerful, stinging rhythm and bity solos have been a main element to the band’s sound for over forty years. Like our own guitar-collecting addict Joe Bonamassa, Perry is “not quite sure how many” guitars he has, but I’m sure it’s a lot!
Big beards and cool shades; I don’t have to tell you what band perfected this trendy on-stage style. For almost 50 years, ZZ Top has been performing their pioneered style of Texas-boogie blues with the great Billy Gibbons who has maintained his distinct tone throughout his career. With an arsenal of blues licks from the early masters like Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and others, Gibbons remains as one of the best surviving blues musicians, always looking for inventive ways to improve his sound. Check out a younger Billy Gibbons jamming on his signature 1959 Les Paul standard “Pearly Gates.”
Mr. Saul Hudson is not my favorite guitarist in the world, but if I excluded him from this list, I would have hell to pay. Slash is of course known as the rippin’ guitarist for the 80’s hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, and for his outrageously curly hair with a top hat perched on it. Slash’s fuzz-driven tone and melodic solos make him a very distinct player, showing his aptitude for both power-driving and slow ballad-like tunes. Slash can still be seen sporting a variety of brand’s guitars, but he has always gravitated toward Les Pauls (especially a lot of gold tops!) which pair seamlessly with his stacks of Marshall amps.
Gary Moore might just one of if not the most underrated guitarist on our list. As soon as he got a “high quality guitar” at the age of 14, Moore could not be stopped. At sixteen, he was recruited to an Ireland-based rock and blues band called Skid Row (no not the glam-metal band). He drew influence from many pivotal players like Buddy Guy, Albert King, but especially Peter Green, who acted as a mentor to Moore at a young age. Moore also had a brief stint in the hard blues rock band, Thin Lizzy before embarking on a widely successful solo career. Although he does not get the full recognition he deserves, Gary Moore is greatly admired and respected in the guitar circle. Joe Bonamassa has noted Moore to be a major influence on his playing, which is evident when you listen to some of his solos and said that “Gary had this ability to make every song his own and make it exciting and fiery.” Sadly, Moore passed away in 2011 at the age of 58.
Warren Haynes is a highly respected and seasoned pro in the professional music scene, especially in the blues and jam realms. Ever since he was in David Allan Coe’s hard country-rock group at the age of 20, Haynes’ career has been jam-packed and never lets up. After a recording session and some time in Dickey Bett’s band, Betts urged the rest of the Allman Brothers to include Haynes in their reunion lineup starting in 1987, where he would remain until 1997, rejoining another incarnation of the band in 2000 until their official disbandment in 2014. In between all the hectic blues playing, Haynes founded the internationally acclaimed jam band Gov’t Mule, one of the heroes of the modern jam scene. Warren can be seen bending, plucking, or sliding on his signature 1958 Les Paul Standard alongside the best musicians in music today.
Speaking of Allman Brother alumnus, let’s move on to another slightly underappreciated guitar wizard, Dickey Betts. Sharing the responsibilities of lead guitar with a masterful musician like Duane Allman was probably a daunting task, but Betts more than held his own and proved himself as a worthy contender. Betts’ recognizable tone and spunky single-note solos secure him a spot on our list as well as many “top guitarists lists.”
He’s the dude with high-flying jumps, windmill strums, and many broken instruments. Besides all of his spectacular stage antics, Pete Townshend is a talented guitarist, songwriter, and overall musician. As a member of the famed British blues-rock group, the Who, Townshend cowrote some of the most famous rock songs of all time as well as mind-blowing rock operas that still hold up today.
There you have it, the first half of the 14 greatest Les Paul players. Who are your favorite players? Do you have any memories of these great musicians playing live?